Zambia Parks & Reserves

Nature-lovers will love Zambia: a fifth of the country is set aside for conservation in the form of national parks and reserves, and although Zambia is home to some of Africa’s biggest protected areas, many of its safari destinations are barely visited.

Many of Zambia’s parks have a strong water element to them - hardly surprising considering the country is home to the source of the Zambezi River as well as vast swamps and other river systems - but it does mean, when coupled with Zambia’s poor roads, that many parks are inaccessible during the summer rainy season.

However, overlanders who have got their timing right and have a little luck on their side could be in for a treat. Zambia’s major parks are home to the full range of classic African mammals (though rhinos are virtually gone now) and a stunning bird life (an astonishing 733 species have been recorded). Zambia is particularly famous for large and healthy populations of elephant, lion, hippo, giraffe, buffalo and leopard while the range of antelope species is far greater than her more southerly neighbours.

Mosi Oa Tunya

Mosi-Oa-Tunya National Park is situated along the upper reaches of the Zambezi River, stretching from - and including - the Victoria Falls for about 12kms upriver. Much of the park is covered by mopane woodland, riverine forest and stands of rustling ilala palms.

It’s only 66 sq km but it provides a home for numerous antelope, zebra, giraffe and even several introduced white rhino - 2 calves were born in April 2011, taking the population to 7.  These are perhaps the only rhinos to be seen in Zambia, as the previously large population was completely wiped out by poachers. Elephants cross the Zambezi in the dry months of August and September from the Zimbabwean side in search of food.

You can drive around the whole park in a couple of hours and as there are no predators, the animals are quite relaxed and easy to spot. The highlight here is the rhino walk. Two groups of eight people are permitted to track rhino by foot each day. You arrive in the park at dawn and, accompanied by an armed ranger, you creep through the bush in single file following the spoor of the rhino.

South Luangwa

Zambia’s huge, wild and remote South Luangwa National Park is one of Africa’s best kept secrets. The concentration of game around the Luangwa River and its lagoons is among the most dense in Africa - indeed, there’s such an abundance of animals in this 9 050 sq km park that it could almost be called crowded! The changing seasons add to the park’s richness, as it changes from a dry, brown and pretty much featureless bush in winter to a lush green wonderland in the summer months.

There are over 400 species of bird and 60 types of mammal - the only notable exclusion is the rhino, sadly poached to extinction. Nevertheless, the list includes both familiar faces and rare ones: wildebeest, antelope species and zebra congregate on the open savannah grasslands and are stalked by lion, spotted hyena and African wild dog while endemic sub-species of zebra, giraffe and antelopes will keep the list-compilers happy.

It’s also a place of water: the coffee-and-milk coloured Luangwa River is home to hundreds of crocodiles as well as hippos - often over 100 individuals can be counted in a single pod. Enormous elephants are often seen crossing the river’s sand banks and big herds of buffalo keep the lion population happy.

The now famous ‘walking safari’ originated in this park and it is still one of the finest ways to experience this pristine wilderness first-hand. May to August is perfect weather for walking - dry but cool - but it gets very hot in September and October as the buildup to the rainy season begins. But don’t discount these hot months - animals congregate along the almost dried-up river and remaining waterholes, so these hot dry months are the best for game viewing.